Born in Evanston, Illinois, to Ralph and Helga Cotanche on January 21, 1932, DeElda Lou Cotanche (renamed “LaLa” by baby brother Larry) lived a long, loving, and generous life. She passed into her Father’s care on May 26 in Winter Park at age 90.
The fourth of five siblings, DeElda treasured her family and took care of those close to her, especially sister Donna’s kids, whom she helped to raise. No one among her many nephews, nieces, grandnephews, grandnieces, and cousins were forgotten at Christmastime. More than once, she provided refuge for a young one in need of a safe place to regroup. She loved with a big love, and many who came as strangers (of all shapes, sizes, colors, and faiths) were gathered into the warm sphere of her affection. She lived not only the words of the Gospel, but also those of Lincoln: “With malice toward none, and charity toward all.”
A trailblazer, she was among the first women to graduate from Emory University, adding to her BSW with a Master of Divinity. Her keen intellect and innate impulse to help led her to social work, a career in which she thrived, first in California and then in Florida. The state sent her to Tulane for her MSW, after which Dee started her rise to leadership in what would become the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services. She was promoted to District 7 Program Manager, a position she held until her retirement in 1997, along the way contributing to the expansion of the Social Work program at UCF.
Retirement offered DeElda a chance to spend more time with family and to travel. She had explored the Cotanche homeland of France in 1964; in 2002, she visited Scandinavia. The grandchild of a Norwegian immigrant, Dee sought out her Norsk roots and embraced both her overseas relations and their culture, not only visiting Norway, but also becoming a mainstay in the local chapter of Sons of Norway. There would be a trip to Germany and northern France, a second one to Norway, and a Danube River cruise before ailments forced her to hang up her traveling shoes.
Dee’s story could not be told without mention of her cats, dear to her always, among them Gideon and Abra, Benjamin and Sarah … all long-lived and with memorable personalities.
DeElda loved music and understood its heavenly origin. She sang in the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park and in the choirs at her churches, the last being St. Andrews United Methodist near her home. Dee loved the fellowship of singing and soloed often, and she had musical relatives and friends who shared their songs with her. Music and her deep faith in her loving God were great comfort to her throughout her life.
In her later years, DeElda set about chronicling the lives of first her parents and then others in the family by creating books online that she then printed, full of lively prose and carefully chosen images. Never afraid of technology and eager to make use of its tools, she was often found in front of her Mac, typing and clicking away. Dee adopted the iPhone early and was powerfully adept at Words With Friends. A stroke left her with aphasia in 2017, a major blow to a person who loved language and conversing with others; however, she soon regained her creative momentum to finish the book on her own life.
Brought down at last by complications of congestive heart failure, LaLa loved and was loved to the last day of her life. She is survived by her nieces Jeanne Zumbaugh, DeAnn Carr, Cheryl Cotanche, Cynthia Nuzzi, Pam LaVigne, Cathy Fussel, and Susan Dennis; nephews Robert Lovering, Mark Johnson, William Johnson, and Todd Cotanche; as well as many grand- and great-grandnieces and -nephews. Donations in DeElda’s name would be welcomed by Saint Andrews United Methodist Church or any charity that feeds the hungry, serves the homeless, or shelters pets. A celebration of life will be held at St. Andrews United Methodist Church at 4:00pm on June 15, 2022. Reception to follow next door at the clubhouse of Four Seasons Condominium, 200 St. Andrews Blvd., Winter Park, FL 32792.